When I first learned how some Jewish social justice and environmental activists are re-imagining the Sabbatical Year, my mind and heart started racing with the beauty of this ancient teaching. In teachings about the Sabbatical Year, God’s concern for land overlaps and is entwined with God’s concern for animals, which overlaps and is entwined with God’s concern for people. Here, there is no dichotomy between social justice issues and environmental issues; no “jobs vs. the environment” mantra that I hear so often in political and activist discourse here in the U.S. Land and animal and human are connected to each other, and to God. Beautiful!
Over the last year and a half, I’ve done some teaching around Shmita practice in Jewish, Christian, and Unitarian Universalist congregations. My main goal in these sessions has been to wonder what the implications of this teaching might be for us today.
It is difficult to imagine actually implementing Shmita practice the way it is outlined in the Torah, but it is fascinating to consider the questions it raises about our way of life—our financial systems, generational poverty (and debt), and deepening economic inequality; our enshrinement of private property and an individualist, “boot-straps” ethic; our food system and its effects on land, animals, and people… the questions are deeply challenging. In one class I taught, one man became so uncomfortable with some of these questions that he left the room.
I continue to be fascinated with these ideas and questions. As the Sabbatical Year approaches though, I am focusing more on what this practice might mean for me in my life. That’s right: my “I’m almost 40” life. The one where I just got divorced, where I’ve closed one 20-year chapter, and am newly stepping into whatever is next. What questions and challenges might this tradition pose for me, right now?
In my thinking, I’ve identified six qualities of Shmita practice. These are: sharing, local community, release of debt, equality in diverse community, living in the moment, and enoughness.
As I sit here at my kitchen table this Friday morning, my plan is to write—over an undetermined amount of time—several more short posts that explore these qualities. For now, though, just one more thing: in Hebrew, shmita means “to release.”
What would a release-approach to life look like? What am I holding on to, clinging to, or wanting/craving/coveting? In the Sabbatical Year of 5775, of what should I let go—and what kind of space might that open up in my life?